WASHINGTON – A state delegate is urging Dorchester County Commissioners to move forward on a proposed power plant that would burn chicken manure and wood chips to generate electricity.
Delegate Rudolph Cane, D-Wicomico, said he plans to send a letter to the commissioners urging them to begin looking for a good location for the plant, which he said would be good for the environment and would provide jobs in an area that needs them.
But while supporters like Cane see a source for “green power,” others say the proposal from Fibrowatt needs more study.
“There’s a smokestack to it (the proposed plant), there’s an ash that comes out that they would have to capture. Would it be able to meet clean-air standards?” asked Dorchester Commissioner Glen Payne.
Fibrowatt operates three power plants in England that burn “poultry litter” and other biological materials rather than fossil fuels. Dorchester officials toured two Fibrowatt plants early last month, and the company wrote the county later in the month saying it wants to build a plant here.
Cane was part of the group that toured the Fibrowatt plants in East Anglia and came away impressed.
“The state of Maryland is looking for green power and this would be setting an example, if this plant becomes a reality, of what other companies can do to assist in reduction of polluting types of emissions in the air,” he said.
County Commission President Thomas Flowers, who was also on the East Anglia tour, said Fibrowatt has worked out any environmental problems.
“After the wood chips and the poultry litter [are] incinerated, it leaves an ash and in this ash all the detrimental chemicals have been removed,” Flowers said. “The ash is bagged and sold as fertilizer. There is steam vapor that goes out and that has been fully scrubbed.”
Fibrowatt’s proposal comes at a time when poultry producers are under pressure to find alternatives to dumping manure on fields as fertilizer.
While chicken manure is rich in nutrients that help fields, such as phosphate and nitrogen, the nutrient-rich run-off from those fields can cause problems in the Chesapeake Bay. It has been linked to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, a toxic microbe that has caused fish kills in some Eastern Shore waterways.
The Delmarva Peninsula produces about 800,000 tons of poultry manure each year. The plant would burn about 250,000 tons annually, said Sherry Tucker, U.S. representative for Fibrowatt, and employ 35 skilled workers.
Supporters say burning poultry litter and wood chips, which are a byproduct of the timber industry, is much better for air quality than fossil fuels. President Clinton called for more research on such biomass fuels in his State of the Union address last week.
While groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Sierra Club support alternatives to fossil fuels, they say they do not know enough about the kind of plant Fibrowatt is proposing to take a stand on it yet.
“One of the things we want to make sure is that all the science is in on [this plant], that the clean-air standards are kept,” said Mary Marsh, legislative chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter.
“We are interested in learning a lot more about the proposal,” said George Chmael, staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “We are supportive of alternative means of getting rid of or properly disposing of the excess nutrients. Keeping them out of the bay is our ultimate goal.”